It seems like there are stages in my life when everywhere I go, people are always telling me, “Enjoy your kids! It goes so fast!”
**Important note before reading on!**
If you have ever said this to me, please don’t think the following constitutes me scolding you.
It’s just something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I think it’s important enough to warrant public reflection.
Before, it seemed like these admonitions were always clumped around a time when I was griping a lot. The odd thing about the recent rash of “enjoy it”’s is that I really have been enjoying my kids—laughing at their funny moments, sharing the silly ones. The two most recent times, it came from complete strangers: an old man in the Aldi parking lot, when I was trying to get the little ones to hold my hands to walk inside, and the cashier at Penney’s, who didn’t even see my kids, because Christian and I were alone.
I’m always conflicted when someone expresses this sentiment. On the one hand, I understand exactly where they’re coming from. Those who are farther along in the parenting journey have the perspective to know it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. You don’t want to wish away the beauty of the present.
But on the other hand, it’s really easy to sentimentalize the past, to downplay or dismiss its troubles and glorify its virtues. Think about the deliberate amnesia we impose upon ourselves to make it psychologically possible to go through pregnancy again. Let’s be frank: pregnancy is not for the faint of heart! Especially the last six weeks. (Want to hazard a guess how far out I am?) Then there’s the haze of no sleep and adjusting to a new, adorable little tyrant ruling your life, which is soon enough followed by toilet training and tantrums.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. At almost all times, the moments of grace and wonder outweigh the trials. Sometimes we need to be smacked upside the head with a reminder: “Dude! Focusing on the wrong thing here!”
Yet you have to be careful not to belittle a person’s struggles. We all think whatever stage we’re dealing with is the worst. I hear the “enjoy it” sentiment most often from parents of teenagers. I can only speak from a standpoint of reason, not experience, but I just don’t buy that teen angst is any more punishing on a parent than round-the-clock diapering, toddler willfulness and the general high-maintenance of teaching a small person every single skill they have to know in order to function as a human being, from self-care to self-control. Parents of teens may take issue with me, but I think the stages are just different, not more or less intensive. Just as there are trials and rewards in the young years, so are there trials and rewards in the teen years—and every other stage. Parents of ten-year-olds or adolescents or grown kids with kids of their own—each have concerns about their children unique to that stage.
Now, no one who says, “Enjoy it! It goes so fast!” means to belittle the struggles faced by parents of young children. But on the receiving end, it often feels as if we’re not allowed to get angry or frustrated. Parenthood, as all of life, is roses with thorns. You can’t have one without the other, and the best way to support each other through this journey is to affirm both the good parts and the bad.
What do you think? More experienced parents, am I missing something? Fellow young-ie’s, do these kinds of statements ever bother you? Or am I overthinking the whole topic?
Maybe it’s just parents wishing they could relive the moments they felt were wasted in their own parenting.
That could be…
I, too, have inwardly rolled my eyes when parents with older kids tell me, “Just WAIT!” ominously. Like you, I don’t doubt that there are struggles, but I also think that because of that amnesia that settles in, they’ve forgotten what it’s like to not have one…iota…of silence to think. The constant need of someone who still can’t get in their car seat by themselves, another who still can’t close the van door by herself, the daily frustrations of the six-year-old becoming infuriated while trying to turn on the TV with its seven different remotes or click just the right thing on the computer…I could go on, but you get the point. I think with little ones, it’s the day-to-day things that wear me down and make me feel like a numb mass of jelly at the end of some days. But what makes me nervous about raising teens is that the stakes are higher. If I miss a crucial conversation cue from one of my kids and don’t give them important advice they need, am overconfident in their new driving ability on just the wrong day, misjudge the character of one of a boyfriend or girlfriend, the consequences are much farther reaching. Maybe that’s where the ominous tone comes from.
I’m picturing two sets of parents crossing a rugged terrain. The parents of the young children are faced with a field that is riddled with many small potholes that are a nuisance and numerous, but still negotiable. Then, there are the parents of the older kids whose field is less riddled with rocks but they are much bigger, much more jagged and harder to get around. (Though, I imagine the struggles you’ve experienced with a child with special abilities probably felt like a mix of the two.)
Sorry, this was pretty long!
That makes sense. I wrote this in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, and the rambling was 50% longer… 🙂 One of the paragraphs I cut said, ironically, almost the opposite: that the stakes are higher in young childhood, because that’s where they get the foundation upon which all those teenage things are built. I know that every single parenting decision we make, without exception, is focused on what our kids need to learn in order to navigate the increased independence and hazardous terrain of adolescence and adulthood. They’ll still have to make their own decisions, many of which might cause us pain as parents, but I can’t help feeling that if we do our job right early on, the teen years are more likely to be less hazardous. That’s a perspective I’d love for some of the parents-of-adults to weigh in on. (Hint, hint!)
Maybe it is all about a parent’s personality and approach? I suspect that you will love the teen years and find them much easier. I know that I don’t know you, but it just seems like you’ll enjoy talking with your teens a whole lot more than playing the same game for the 100th time with your 4yo.
My mother has often expressed how inestimably horrid the teen years are compared to the young/baby years, and she said this even while going through both. In fact, some of my siblings accused my parents of having more babies because it gave them an escape from the reality of the teen years.
I guess the moral is that all parents hate some part of it? 😉
Either that, or I’m wrong, and the teen years really are awful. 🙂
I think there are two kinds of women. The women who want to hold everybody’s babies and the other kind. Babies are nice and lovable but they need a lot of physical work. Physical work when you’re tired just isn’t my cup of tea. I enjoyed mine so much more when they could talk, play games, dress themselves, sleep all night through, and use the bathroom. When they didn’t “need” me so much. I guess I’m just not a baby person. Time is such a relative word. I look at my 43 yr old son and remember his birth as if it was yesterday. Time always goes fast looking back.
I was hoping you would comment, Dottie. 🙂 I think you’re right about time flying in retrospect. Alex’s first six years seem to have flown by, but the first few months dragged day by day. I look at these last six weeks with dread–mostly b/c I’ve been battling on-again, off-again nausea that keeps me up nights for the last week or so–but I know they won’t seem long any more after the baby arrives.
Wow!! You hit the nail on the head! I had this same thought earlier this week and I even thought about posting on the topic of “wishing our lives away”-always waiting for the next step. I have often felt belittled or begrudged when wise wisdom has been offered to me-I love the comments posted on here-It is all in perspective and we should take this wisdom as it comes thankfully from those who have gone before us and remember humans don’t eat their young! Assume innocence in the comments!
I guess what this all tells me is that parenting, regardless of the children’s ages, is not for the faint of heart!
But I always want to counsel parents to be grateful for what they have. Trust me, the loneliness I’ve endured is no fun either… There have been numerous occasions when I would have gladly traded places with a complaining parent. Is it just a case of the grass looking greener on the other side? Perhaps. But enjoy your little bundles of joy as best you can, even with their ‘thorns’.
I am an empty nester. When I say the time goes too fast, I don’t say it to make parents feel guilty when they are having a bad day! For heaven’s sake, I had plenty of those!
I say it to remind parents that they can never get this time back again. When I say it goes too fast, it is because it really does, because all of a sudden, before you are really ready, you are sitting at home wishing you could do it all over again. Not because any part of it was perfect or not perfect, but because you miss your children and you find yourself getting sentimental about it all.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy this time with my husband now. I enjoy visiting my children and my grandchildren. But sometimes, I miss those family moments and vacations with the kids and being the center of my children’s world.
As an empty nester who has been there, done that, I just want to pass on my own experience – tomorrow you will wake up and your kids will be gone. You will be proud of them. You will be happy for them. But you will miss them.
I think it’s beautiful and valuable to to be sentimental about it…I do that daily, remembering good moments in babyhood..I just don’t wish I had it back. 🙂